Defense Minister Amir Peretz stated on Sunday evening that that Israel must act against the terror groups launching Qassam rockets from Gaza. "I don't think we should let the Islamic Jihad party, there's no reason to wait for someone to get hurt (before taking action)," he said.
Peretz made his statement during a meeting with the state's defense echelon in Tel Aviv, signaling a parting of ways from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's policy of restraint by advocating a strong response to the continuing rocket attacks.
The two agree however on the matter of easing restrictions for Palestinians. Peretz said during the meeting that he has given an initial green-light for the proposed steps, which include taking down roadblocks in the West Bank, allowing more Palestinian workers into Israel and advancing joint economic initiatives.
Peretz also agreed to gradually easing restrictions on the transfer of goods and services to and from the Palestinian Authority. More businessmen and traders will be allowed into the PA, as well as easier movement for medical teams and international organizations. Security sources say that the changes will already be noticeable in the field by the end of the week.
Peretz is expected to receive a detailed plan of what easing the restrictions will cost, including a financial plan for the development of travel infrastructure to allow easier transport for Palestinian vehicles.
Olmert: Abbas difficult adversary but he wants peace
At a Kadima rally in Ashkelon PM Olmert addressed his recent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "Abu-Mazen (Abbas) is not an easy adversary, but with such an adversary there is a chance to talk with and maybe reach an agreement between us and the Palestinians, maybe create a
political horizon and create a base for communication, strengthen responsible elements – not Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
"There are moderate elements who openly say that they want peace," continued Olmert, "that's why I went to such lengths to meet with him and I'm happy that he came to the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem to begin a process of talks between us and the Palestinians. We will continue with these talks but we will also continue to keep our fingers on the security pulse to strike at those who seek to strike us."
Speaking at a cabinet meeting earlier Sunday Olmert hinted that he may already agree to release Palestinian prisoners before the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid el-Adha commencing this weekend. Olmert consulted with several of his ministers, all of whom said that they supported releasing the prisoners – even though Cpl. Gilad Shalit is still being held captive. This signals a drastic change in the government's long-standing position of refusing to release any Palestinian prisoners before Shalit is returned.
Shmulik Hadad contributed to this report